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May. 1st, 2008

I borrowed the Don Giovanni dvd from my father's Salzburg Mozart opera box set & thought I'd watch maybe one act today and the other tomorrow, and then sat glued to the computer for three hours straight with a brief toothbrush break between acts 1 & 2.

I can't really remember what my initial reaction had been, maybe a bit different because I barely knew the opera then, but, holy shit. Martin Kušej is such a brilliant director and it's once again amazing to see what he can do with his material; I'd just wish his messages weren't always so depressing, because this says some really ugly things about the relationship between men and women. It's a bit different in the second act where he has less leeway with the supernatural element, but in the first act he doesn't even have to change anything -- merely strip away the male view that tends to romanticise/downplay the consequences of Don Giovanni's behaviour. Act 1 is Don Giovanni seen from the female perspective, and it's not pretty. To state the obvious, this isn't about love, the point is that love is something Don Giovanni incapable of, but there's nothing even remotely light or playful to distract from the ugliness; it's brutal and predatory. Women are meat. Leporello's aria about Don Giovanni's conquests is chilling especially with the rope-skipping girl in the white dress at Sua passion predominante/È la giovin principiante. Zerlina, who's willing to let herself be beaten up to pacify Masetto (who casually slaps her across the face before that), is (at least that's pretty strongly implied) raped at the end of act 1 and spends act 2 bruised and bloody. La povera ragazza/È pazza, amici miei;/Lasciatemi con lei,/Forse si calmerà. is not a line (or four lines) from an 220 years old opera, it's a man dismissing a woman's grievance by saying she's over-emotional, overreacting, etc., and it's scary how easily that can be brought into the present.

And it's not just Don Giovanni, none of the men are immune to this. Masetto does seem to reconsider his behaviour a bit after he himself gets beaten up in act 2, while Don Ottavio, who is the one genuinely nice guy in act 1 picks up a bit of Don Giovanni's attitude along with his sword when he vows to avenge the murder of Donna Anna's father and has Zerlina, Elvira and Masetto all flinching away from the sudden violence. When Donna Anna refuses to marry him he storms across the stage (how dare she, a woman, refuse him), stops very, very short of making the argument violent only at her 'Crudele?' and spends most of her aria almost literally sitting on his hands to avoid doing that, maybe horrified at himself. His willingness to wait for a year like she demands shows at least that he's a bit more aware and able to respect her wishes.

It's opera, it's Salzburger Festspiele, meaning that it's so elitist that it's pointless to think it'll change anything, but I should think that would have made at least some men in the audience uncomfortable.

This is a Don Giovanni it's almost impossible to sympathise with even in the end; it's not that he refuses to repent, he literally can't. He's incapable of seeing an alternative, or feeling regret. Io mi voglio divertir, that's all it comes down to, and Kušej brutally emphasises the cruelty, as well as the emptiness and meaninglessness of that.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 1st, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
I wish you would question the stale activist's cliche that suddenly sprouts at the end of your post, that art is meant to "change" society; it is a lot if it tells any important truth, and most good art simply delivers enjoyment. Above all, to assume that "to change society" is a sacred duty and that what does not tend to that is worthless, is a reductionist attitude that tends only to the interests of parties and politicians. We have other things to do with our lives than thinking about what are ultimately power and command issues all the time. Apart from anything else, you should remember that crushing closing line - "meet the new boss - same as the old boss". Yeah, and sometimes worse.

Having said that, I think you might be interested in my essay on DON GIOVANNI: http://fpb.livejournal.com/679.html. It says some - only some - of the things your rather one-sided director seems to have emphasized.
May. 1st, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
Wait - I never said meant. Can, yes; must -- most definitely no. But the message was incredibly strong especially in the first act, as well as, IMO an important one, because even I as a woman catch myself taking the male view very much for granted most of the time unless there's some glaring misogyny to jerk me out of it, and still find it easier to identify with male characters than female ones, and it was a bit of a revelation to see the veil pulled away like that; and I felt it was almost wasted on the handful of rich people who saw the performance and the other few handfuls that bought the dvds.

And I never said 'change society' either; but art can change people's attitudes and opinions -- for the worse as well as, hopefully, for the better.
May. 1st, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
Well, have a look at that essay, you ought to like it.
May. 1st, 2008 10:57 pm (UTC)
I've skimmed it and will read it more thoroughly tomorrow (1 am, sorry), but I think we are pretty close to agreeing on a lot of things. Here's the amazon link for the dvd, btw; I think you might like it; even if it's a bit more one-sided than your interpretation, it's not so very different. And the production is visually stunning.
May. 2nd, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
I doubt it. The relentlessly negative tone you describe, the desire to blacken everyone's motivations, the insertion of things that simply aren't in the text or in the music - especially where positive characters such as Ottavio are concerned - all strike me as totally undesirable. As for agreeing with my analysis, I was NOT out to prove that every male human being is out to destroy every female one. In point of fact, I regard that kind of "feminism" as hate-ridden, fraudulent, destructive, inevitably given to lying, and especially contemptible - not to mention pathological - when coming from a man. That is not to say that there are no issues between the sexes, but that sort of attitude needs a psychiatrist, not favourable reviews and public money to reinforce his nightmares.
May. 2nd, 2008 08:32 am (UTC)
With Don Giovanni you and Kusej are absolutely on the same page (an ice cold villain and rapist, a 'moral ruin'; not a trace of the 'metaphorical hero'), where you maybe diverge a bit is that for him Don Giovanni is not so much an isolated pathological case, but an extreme representative of the self-obsessed, egoistic, modern Spassgesellschaft. Kusej takes the end very literally, and very seriously.

('Brave? He is no more brave than Hitler was when, after covering all of Europe with his crimes and perverting every aspect of life, he killed himself rather than face the music.' I've almost used this comparison in my post, which I think emphasises the similarities between his and your interpretation.)

I can't quite remember, but I think with Leporello Kusej took a bit of a metaphorical approach, essentially seeing him as Don Giovanni's alter ego, maybe part of himself; I'd have to look it up. So, yes, unhealthy relationship, and yes, innocence destroyed, even if it was only his own innocence. Leporello could very well be seen as the tattered remains of the 'better man somewhere in him, [...] a long time before the curtain rose'; not really a conscience, not strong enough to change anything, but at least the residue awareness of wrongness.

Even with Don Ottavio there's not that much of a difference, because for Kusej he is a good guy, the man who unfailingly supports his fiancee and Donna Elvira throughout the first act, and he absolutely makes the audience believe that. 'in the mouth of the average Don Ottavio, this sounds ridiculous': not a mistake that Kusej made. His solution is to have him fall into the trap of a more violent, Don Giovanni-eque behaviour there for a moment, but he realises his mistake and does come out with integrity in the end, because he is willing to listen to Donna Anna and to respect her wishes. 'treats with great respect the mutual respect and affection, the freely undertaken vows, of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio.' -- that message is absolutely there, and all the stronger because for a moment he did almost succumb to the temptation to behave differently, and it profoundly shocked him. Their relationship is sincere and treated very seriously, and perhaps the most positive element in this rather depressing production.

The greatest difference is with Zerlina, but this is also the instance where at least from a modern point of view I disagree with your interpretation. That might have been okay or funny once, but when you give a little thought to what she's saying there, it's very uncomfortable to hear a woman inviting a man to beat her in order not to lose him. Even if she loves him; especially if she loves him. Whether or not he takes her up on her offer makes no difference IMO.

And Masetto? 'calling the woman he has just married a slut in front of the whole marriage party: something which demeans not only her, but himself as well.' Again, very much on the same page. Kusej's Zerlina is a victim both of Don Giovanni and her future husband, who only starts to rethink his behaviour when he himself becomes the victim of violence and abuse.
May. 3rd, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
for him Don Giovanni is not so much an isolated pathological case, but an extreme representative of the self-obsessed, egoistic, modern Spassgesellschaft

You will remember that I analyzed the final coming together of all Giovanni's enemies as representing, in much the same way as the great revolt in Macbeth, the revolt of freeborn society against banditry, rape and murder. Ottavio and Anna, I said, represent the upper classes, Masetto and Zerlina the freeborn churls, and you can even read Elvira, with her ever-rejected determination to love and forgive, even giving him one last chance when he is literally on the edge of Hell, and eventually taking the veil, as representing the Church. And that being the case, I think this is where I have the deepest issue. I think that if you insist that Macbeth and Giovanni are representative of anything but their own selves, you end up breaking down the ordinary barrier of society. It is a frequent talking point, that the difference between villain and ordinary citizen, or villain and cop, is one of degree rather than kind, but I cannot - at least, in this particular context - accept it.

OT: who is the extremely sexy black-haired lady on your icon?
May. 3rd, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
Aynur Doǧan, a fantastic Turkish-Kurdish singer; the picture (and the song) is from her CD Keçe Kurdan, which I can only recommend.

May. 2nd, 2008 08:32 am (UTC)
(part 2)
where no actual violence is involved, we assume that there is free choice.

Which IMO is absolutely and unreasonably idealistic. If you've followed the recent fandom debate about that convention and the infamous 'open source boob project', you'll have seen that most women are very aware that it's not as clear-cut as all that; that there are all kinds of expectations and social pressure making women consent to things they're maybe not entirely comfortable with, because not being desirable, or not having a partner carries such a stigma, because we're uncomfortable saying 'no' directly, or have been taught to put a men's needs first. Yes, still. She (the comment I liked to, not the OP) says it better than I could. After having read many of those reaction posts, Don Giovanni is not 'almost incomprehensible' to me in this respect; it only echoed what I was shocked to hear so many women say.

I don't care how it is phrased: physical or not, this is violence

Thank you for being able to see that.

I don't agree 100% with Kusej, and I did mention in my original post that I thought his interpretation too negative for my taste -- not only here, but generally speaking; he always takes an extremely bleak approach, no matter what the subject is. But it's an interesting and valid view to take, and I appreciate it if a director takes me out of my mental comfort zone a bit and forces me to think, and Kusej does that. The Hamlet I saw after his production was critically acclaimed but it bored me to the point of almost walking out. I don't think that every man is out to destroy every woman, and I doubt Kusej does, but sometimes you have to overemphasise something in order to make a point.

May. 3rd, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
Re: (part 2)
My view of Zerlina is not that she is actually eager to be beaten (except perhaps as a part of sex games - she is quite a minx, and Masetto's brutal reference to Don Giovanni "riding" her has a shadow of explanation, if not justification, in her habit of teasing and encouraging him); what she is doing is being disarming - to disarm him. He acknowledges this in his line: Guarda un po' come seppe questa strega sedurmi! Siamo pur noi i deboli di testa. That is slightly hard to translate - the verb "to seduce" would give entirely the wrong impression - but it means something like: Just you look at how this witch managed to charm me out of my anger! We men are really all weak in the head. Which, incidentally, is a universal feminine talking point - "all boys are idiots" and the like. I suppose that, as a native, I pay more attention to the dialogue than most, but the fact is that Da Ponte is miles above the average libretto hack: he is a seriously good playwright whose scripts would deserve attention independently of Mozart's music, and whose every line counts.

On another matter, there is no need to thank a Catholic for taking the teachings of his Church seriously. It is mainly thanks to reflecting on Christian teaching on these matters that I came long ago to reject the commonplaces about sexual freedom in which, as a child of the Sixties, I had grown up.

Edited at 2008-05-03 02:32 pm (UTC)
May. 3rd, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
Re: (part 2)
I'm pretty sure there are plenty of men who call themselves catholic and still wouldn't see it like that, as well as plenty of non-religious men for whom sexual freedom only means that women should be available to them, so accept a compliment, okay? :) There are enough things we disagree about.
May. 2nd, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
Wow. Although this sounds like something I absolutely have to watch (I'll probably make you borrow the DVD again on my next visit and force you to sit though it again), I don't know if I want to. The versions of Don Giovanni I've watched were much more light-hearted than that; the music, in it's relentless precision, is terrible enough as it is, so the stage directors usually choose to lighten up or at least to keep it sober, without emphasizing the negative and cruel aspects.
May. 2nd, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
I'll bring it along next time, but... his interpretations have a way of sticking in your mind, even if you don't like them, so I can totally understand not wanting to see it. It's this version, btw, maybe you have it in the GI library?
May. 5th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
Oh, I would love to see that, but it doesn't look like my library has it. Maybe I'll fill out one of the cards to try to get them to buy a copy. Although for some strange region, the versions available for sale in the US don't seem to have English subtitles...
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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